Voters will have final say, by mail, on June 9
The Beacon school board on Wednesday (May 20) approved the district’s nearly $76 million budget for the 2020-21 school year. The next step is a June 1 virtual public hearing before district residents will vote by mail on or before June 9 on the budget and three board members seeking reelection.
The public hearing following the board’s adoption of the budget is standard procedure, but little following it will be.
Because of social-distancing requirements due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the state required school and library district to conduct their elections by absentee ballot; the Beacon school district is mailing postcards to residents with instructions.
The state has said that all “qualified” residents are eligible to vote by mail, which includes U.S. citizens who are at least 18 years old and have lived in the district for at least 30 days before the election. Absentee ballots will be mailed with a postage-paid return envelope; there is no need to apply. Voters who do not receive one can make a request at beaconk12.org/domain/418 by 5 p.m. on June 2.
The ballot will include board incumbents Anthony White, Kristan Flynn and Craig Wolf, and, also per the governor’s order, candidates for the Howland Public Library district board and the library’s $1.24 million proposed budget. The Howland budget includes a 5.5 percent increase in the tax levy after the board voted in January to exceed the 2 percent tax cap.
The school district’s budget has been fraught with even more uncertainty than the voting process. It includes $41.6 million in revenue to be collected through property taxes — a 3.23 percent, or $1.3 million, increase over last year, as well as $30.4 million in state aid, about $1 million more than last year. It does not include the standard proposition for buses and other equipment.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo, however, has warned schools statewide that he may have to pull aid later this year to address shortfalls in the state budget.
The state already subtracted a nearly $725,000 “pandemic adjustment” from Beacon’s allocation. While federal aid in the same amount balanced it out, there are no guarantees going forward, district officials say.
The Beacon school board, particularly Board Member Michael Rutkoske, has debated during its recent meetings whether to seek the maximum allowable tax levy, which this year is more than the 2 percent state-imposed cap because of growth factors tied to the state’s consumer price index and the addition of new households to Beacon’s tax base. Rutkoske said again before the vote Wednesday that he’s concerned district residents may already be struggling to make ends meet.
Using the most recent property assessment figures, the average Beacon home would pay $126 more in school taxes if voters approve the budget. Increases would be roughly $156 for district residents living in Fishkill and Wappingers.
But other board members said the district cannot afford to cut costs any further, especially with the possibility of significant state cuts still looming.
“Sometimes the first expectation is that schools and their kids should fall on their swords,” said Board Member Kristan Flynn. But with some people leaving New York City because of the pandemic, Beacon could soon see an influx of new residents “that won’t have a problem paying some of these taxes,” she said.
If voters do not approve the district’s budget proposal, there will be no opportunity for a revote, as there has been in years past. The district would instead shift to a contingency budget, which would not include the $1.3 million in added tax revenue for this year. That would force the district to make cuts to its athletic, music and elective programs, and some class sizes would increase, Deputy Superintendent Ann Marie Quartironi explained during the board’s May 20 meeting, which was held by videoconference.
Local clubs, many of which use school district buildings free of charge for after-hours events, would have to pay full price, as well.
“Not only would we have to cut the $1.3 million; we’re still not sure about state aid,” Quartironi said.